Golden Globes Altering Eligibility Rules Due to Coronavirus Complications, Oscars and More Likely to Follow Suit

With most major releases indefinitely delayed, film festivals postponed, and studios dropping their theatrical releases on digital left and right due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, awards season is going to look very different by the time it rolls around in the fall. And no, it won’t be Bloodshot and Sonic the Hedgehog gunning for best picture, as many online have joked.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is making significant changes to its long-standing rules for the Golden Globes awards eligibility that expands the formats where an eligible film can be first released, including subscription streaming services, subscription cable channels, and broadcast TV. With these changes to the Golden Globes eligibility rules, other awards bodies like the Academy Awards, will likely soon follow.

Deadline reports that the HFPA announced that it would be altering its rules for Golden Globe motion picture eligibility and screenings for this year, which would — for the first time in history — open up the films eligible for the top best picture prizes (drama and musical/comedy) to those that were first released on streaming services, cable, and broadcast TV. However, producers and studios must still prove they had a “bona fide theatrical release planned to begin in Los Angeles during the period from March 15 to April 30 2020.”

This is a change that would likely have come at some point anyway, with the rise of streaming platforms who have become awards heavy-hitters like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu, but has been expedited by the coronavirus epidemic, which has forced the shuttering of theaters across the country and delayed film releases and productions.

“The HFPA’s reminders list committee will consider application of this suspension of the rules on a case-by-case basis when compiling the annual Golden Globe reminders list in the fall,” the HFPA says. “The HFPA will continue to assess the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on motion picture and television distribution and exhibition and may extend these suspensions of the Golden Globe award rules and/or may make other temporary variations to those rules as it considers appropriate in the future.”

Exhibition requirements have been temporarily suspended, except for the rule that films must be released seven days prior to midnight on December 31 of the qualifying year. The HFPA has broadened eligible feature film release platforms — previously only pay-per-view services and theaters — to the alternate formats like streaming services, subscription cable channels, and broadcast TV. But this expansion opens up a whole host of questions: what does this mean for the Golden Globe categories dedicated to TV movies that are dominated by HBO? Could a film that premiered at a film festival but picked up by a cable channel now be eligible for a best picture nomination? That’s something we’ll have to see once voting comes around.

The voting process has been tweaked too, as HFPA has temporarily suspended the rule that stated all members qualified to vote must be invited to an official screening at a third-party facility in the Los Angeles area up to one week before the L.A. release of a film, likely to prevent the dangers of close contact amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s likely that other awards bodies, like the Oscars, will make their own changes in similar fashion to the HFPA. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is expected to follow suit, according to Deadline, with similar temporary tweaks to Oscar eligibility rules after announcing planned changes last week. “We are in the process of evaluating all aspects of this uncertain landscape and what changes may need to be made. We are committed to being nimble and forward-thinking as we discuss what is best for the future of the industry and will make further announcements in the coming days,” AMPAS said in a statement. The 93rd Oscars is still 11 months away, scheduled for February 28, 2021.

While these changes are being touted as temporary for now, it would be interesting to see how much of a permanent impact this has on awards bodies, especially in the face of the ongoing battle between the tradition-bound Oscars and Netflix, as the streaming giant makes concessions to win that coveted statuette and prove its credulity.

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